Leg cramps at night or nocturnal leg cramps are pains that most often occur during the sleeping hours. Due to prolonged hours of inactivity, they can cause a person to wake up and occur at night. Namely, nocturnal leg cramps commonly can occur in the calf but they can also cause pain in the thighs and feet. The pain caused by the leg cramps at night can last from several seconds to several minutes. However, after the leg cramp passes, muscle soreness may linger for the rest of the night or even until the following day. The leg cramps appear more commonly in adults over the age of 50 and can both men and women can experience them.
Leg cramps at night, different from restless leg syndrome
The nocturnal leg cramps and also restless leg syndrome (RLS) occur during sleeping hours but that is the only similarity between the two conditions. In contrast, there are many differences between leg cramps at night and restless leg syndrome, including:
- RLS does not cause pain or cramping, while nocturnal leg cramps do.
- RLS is more of a discomfort or crawling feeling in your legs.
Nocturnal leg cramps often prevent movement while RLS causes the desire to move the legs. Furthermore, moving the leg in RLS offers relief whereas moving the leg in nocturnal leg cramps do not, instead of stretching is required.
Causes and risk factors of leg cramps at night
The exact reason for the appearance of the nocturnal leg cramps is often unknown, but potential causes and risk factors of nightly leg cramps can be the following:
- Sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Standing or working on concrete floors